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Stopping Michigan State's offense will be biggest test for Terps

Matt Zenitz
Contact ReporterBaltimore Sun Media Group
Terps' outlook on Michigan State: “They're impressive, and we've got a challenge ahead of us”

Each Tuesday, Maryland football coach Randy Edsall sits in front of the assembled group of reporters and cameramen and begins his news conference with a rundown of the Terps' upcoming opponent and the challenges that team presents for the Terps.

This week's introduction focused largely on Michigan State's offense, the high-powered and well-rounded unit Maryland's defense will have to slow down if the underdog Terps (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten Conference) stand any chance of upsetting the 12th-ranked Spartans (7-2, 4-1) on Saturday night at Byrd Stadium.

"Very potent offense," Edsall said. "Sixth in the country in total points scored, 44 points per game. Very talented people. They do a good job of giving you different looks in terms of their personnel. Connor Cook is an outstanding quarterback playing at a very high level. Jeremy Langford is an outstanding running back, and Tony Lippett is an outstanding wide receiver, and they have a very solid and productive offensive line."

Maryland has faced some different offensive styles this season.

Ohio State runs the spread. West Virginia is an Air Raid team built around its passing game, and Wisconsin and Iowa are old-school offenses focused on overpowering opposing defenses at the line of scrimmage and churning out yards in the running game.

The Spartans present a different challenge, with a pro-style, multiformation offense that has gotten big throws from Cook and consistent yardage from Langford and the running game.

"They want to run the ball," Terps defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. "They have good receivers that they can play-action pass and move downfield. It's hard to say they're more like this team or that team. But I'll tell you what, they're impressive, and we've got a challenge ahead of us."

One of the key battles will be Maryland's defensive front against a Michigan State offensive line that has allowed fewer sacks (six) than all but one team from a power five conference. That line also paves the way for the Spartans' running game, which averages 5.3 yards per carry.

Led by defensive end Andre Monroe and outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, the Terps are tied for fourth in the Big Ten in sacks and had five sacks during their 20-19 win over Penn State on Nov. 1. Maryland consistently bested an undermanned Penn State offensive line on its way to limiting Nittany Lions running backs to 65 yards on 29 carries.

"They just play aggressive," Terps nose tackle Darius Kilgo said of Michigan State's offensive line. "You see it on film. They just play with an attitude. They just play hard every play … so it's going to be a good, physical battle."

Likewise, Maryland's offensive line that was overmatched against Ohio State and Wisconsin will be tasked with neutralizing a Michigan State defense that, led by star defensive end Shilique Calhoun, has a Big Ten-best 30 sacks.

The Terps are also hopeful that their dual-threat quarterback, C.J. Brown, can exploit the Spartans' defense similarly to how Ohio State's dual-threat signal caller J.T. Barrett did last week while leading the Buckeyes to a 49-37 victory.

Barrett threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and ran for 86 yards and two touchdowns in guiding Ohio State to 568 yards of total offense.

"It's going to be a long day if you think you're going to run the ball against a nine-man box unless you involve the quarterback as a runner, which we do," Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "So obviously we'll look to still try to find a way to manufacture some yards in the run game, but they'll present some opportunities where we've got to make some plays out on the perimeter, and we've got to win against some pretty good coverage."

That becomes more of an obstacle for the Terps without star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who was suspended one game by the Big Ten for his actions before the Penn State game and would have missed the game anyway after suffering a lacerated kidney against the Nittany Lions.

Still, there could be plays to be made against a Michigan State team that is tied for eighth in the Big Ten in scoring defense.

A win would give the Terps their first victory over a ranked team since quarterback Danny O'Brien and wide receiver Torrey Smith helped Maryland beat No. 21 North Carolina State, 38-31, in Ralph Friedgen's final regular-season game as Terps coach on Nov. 27, 2010.

"It's a great opportunity," Edsall said, "but also a tremendous challenge at the same time."

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NO. 12 MICHIGAN STATE (7-2) @ MARYLAND (6-3)

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Site: Byrd Stadium

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 105.7 FM

Series: Michigan State leads 4-1

What's at stake: The Terps are in search of their first win over a ranked team since Nov. 27, 2010. The challenge is great, facing a Michigan State team with one of the top-rated offenses in the country and the top pass rush in the Big Ten. However, this is a chance for Maryland to build on the momentum stemming from its win at Penn State on Nov. 1.

Key matchups: Maryland's offensive line will attempt to neutralize a Shilique Calhoun-led pass rush that has a Big Ten-leading 30 sacks. Likewise, the Terps' defensive front will look to generate pressure against a Michigan State offensive line that has allowed just six sacks and cleared the way for running back Jeremy Langford to rush for 978 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Players to watch: Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is throwing for a Big Ten-best 247 yards per game, 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Langford has run for 104 yards or more in each of the past six games. Spartans wide receiver Tony Lippett leads the conference in receiving yards (953) and touchdown catches (9), and Calhoun is considered one of the better pass rushers in the country.

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